Marshall University’s RCBI innovates face shields to meet needs of healthcare industry

In an effort to meet a crucial need to protect healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, staff members at Marshall University’s Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) have innovated ways to produce face shields using 3D printing and laser technology. 

Using the variety of 3D printers in RCBI’s Center for Innovation and the laser in the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center, RCBI’s staff are manufacturing components for face shields that can be used in healthcare setting until commercially produced supplies catch up with demand.

“These prototypes are examples of the innovation that is possible through the expertise of our staff at RCBI,” said Charlotte Weber, RCBI’s director and CEO. “I am proud that our team has stepped up to try to meet this need in the healthcare community.”

Deacon Stone, who manages RCBI’s Center for Innovation, pioneered a printing method that uses a stacking system to produce multiple frames at once instead of one at a time.

“Our unique innovation transforms a typical one-off 3D printer into a production warehouse,” Stone said. “This approach has allowed us to produce 100 face shield frames in under 24 hours, using only four machines.”

In addition to the 3D printed frame prototypes, Jerry Jefferson in RCBI’s Advanced Technology Center, has been using a laser to cut polycarbonate plastic material into shields to fit to the 3D printed frames. He also created a version of the face shield that can be manufactured entirely using RCBI’s laser.

“We can cut the components for an entire face shield in two minutes, and we can cut roughly 200 of them from one sheet of polycarbonate,” Jefferson said.

As each prototype is modified and improved, RCBI’s team will share results with others around the world to help improve on the process and more rapidly meet the need for personal protective equipment in hospitals.